In a fairly surprising precedent, a jury in the United Kingdom aquitted six Greenpeace activists of criminal damage to a coal plant. In their defence, they argued that their scaling of the smokestack and attempt to paint “Gordon [Brown], bin it” on the side was justified because of the greenhouse gas emissions being produced by the plant:
Jurors accepted defence arguments that the six had a “lawful excuse” to damage property at Kingsnorth power station in Kent to prevent even greater damage caused by climate change. The defence of “lawful excuse” under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 allows damage to be caused to property to prevent even greater damage – such as breaking down the door of a burning house to tackle a fire.
The not-guilty verdict, delivered after two days and greeted with cheers in the courtroom, raises the stakes for the most pressing issue on Britain’s green agenda and could encourage further direct action.
NASA climatic scientist James Hansen testified in defence of the activists.
It is virtually certain that the Crown will appeal the decision, and highly likely that the appeal will succeed. That being said, the situation may be indicative of the British public gaining an appreciation for the gravity of the threat posed by climate change, and the intolerability of coal power in a forward-looking, carbon-reducing economy. The fact that the UK is mulling the approval of new coal plants is definitely a major blot on its record as a fairly progressive state, where climate change is concerned.